In early May, Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first – and most critical – loads calibration test of the first B-21 Raider aircraft. The recent test is one of three major conditions the aircraft will undergo in this phase of ground testing as it progresses toward first flight. Loads calibration, which focuses on calibrating instrumentation prior to flight and verifying structural integrity, has yielded positive and consistent results. During testing, the B-21’s airframe endures varying percentages of stress to ensure the aircraft can proceed on its path to flight readiness.
During the ground test phase, in addition to loads calibration, the team will power up the aircraft, test its subsystems, and apply coatings and paint. The next steps will include carrying out engine runs as well as low-speed and high-speed taxi tests, and then on to first flight.
From day one, Northrop Grumman has proactively worked to burn down as much production risk as possible. Throughout the Engineering, Manufacturing and Development phase, the company has emphasized risk reduction efforts and production readiness as one of the many priorities for the B-21 Raider program. In line with the risk-based approach, the successful calibration test is a significant milestone that further validates the efficacy of the company’s digital design capabilities and advanced manufacturing techniques.
Northrop Grumman has invested in a robust production program – one that is foundational to the National Defense Strategy – to deliver the B-21 Raider at a rate that will have a real effect for the U.S. Air Force in combating the threat. Innovative application of digital engineering and commercial off-the-shelf digital tools continue to deliver an advanced degree of precision and efficiency in the build process, with production risk reduction progressing every day as B-21 Raider test aircraft move down the actual production line.
The first flight projection of 2023, as is now being reported by the Air Force, is aligned with the information communicated during the company’s Q1 earnings call and remains on-schedule to the government Acquisition Program Baseline.
As the Air Force has indicated, the focus is on a safe first flight of a production representative aircraft. With six aircraft in various stages of production and test, Northrop Grumman is progressing toward that objective as it continues to reduce risk, refine the building process, and mature the test fleet ahead of first flight.
Randy Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and program executive officer of the B-21 Raider program, recently said, «The B-21 Raider test aircraft is the most production-representative aircraft, both structurally and in its mission systems, at this point in a program, that I’ve observed in my career». With the first aircraft in the ground test phase and a successful loads calibration under its belt, Northrop Grumman is paving the way for the B-21 Raider Rollout later this year and first flight in 2023.
As the U.S. Army’s number one modernization priority, Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF) has a heavy (pay)load to carry.
But the program, of which the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Aviation & Missile Center (AvMC) plays a critical role, has proven to stand up to the scrutiny. The Precision Strike Missile, part of the LRPF portfolio, is an integral reason why.
« Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) is an exciting capability improvement for the Army that will provide dramatic improvements in targeting, lethality and range while using existing launchers», said Christi Dolbeer, director of the Technology Development Directorate at DEVCOM AvMC.
What makes PrSM so revolutionary? Both an ambitious approach to increasing capabilities but also a pragmatic one. Those launchers are already built, already in the field and already utilized by Soldiers who will not need extensive additional training on the weapons system’s operation. That design was intentional given the Army’s «do more with less» climate and an expected program price tag of more than $1.2 billion over five years.
«PrSM fits in the existing High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers», said Mike Turner, Fires Capability Area Lead for DEVCOM AvMC. «It is part of the command-and-control structure. It will be organic to all Army fires units. So, we have hundreds of launchers already capable of firing this and the targeting dilemma we create for potential adversaries is significant. Especially when we talk about increment four, where we can shoot 1000 kilometers/621.4 miles and that can come from any field artillery rocket and missile unit».
The first increment of PrSM brings with it the capabilities of an increased 500-kilometer/310.7-mile range and double the missile capacity per launcher compared to the aging Army Tactical Missile System. It is currently in an engineering and manufacturing development phase overseen by the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles Project Office and is scheduled to be delivered to Soldiers in 2023.
Engineers at DEVCOM AvMC are currently working with prime contractor Lockheed Martin on increment two, which will integrate a multimode seeker to hit both poorly located unmoving targets and moving targets. This capability will expand the PrSM target set to include maritime targets under the Land-Based Anti-Ship Missile science and technology program.
Still in its early stages, increment three focuses on an enhanced lethality: adding smart submunitions – a small munition that separates from the missile prior to impact – and multiple target capabilities. Increment three will also present an opportunity for industry competition.
In a testament to Army adaptability, the increment intended to be fourth has been prioritized ahead of three and will extend PrSM’s range to 1000 kilometers/621.4 miles, doubling the range of increment capabilities. The reordering, directed by Army Futures Command and the Army, was due to «a need for a longer range in certain theaters», Turner said.
Doubling the range of the precursor missile with increment one –then doubling it again with increment four – is ambitious. Turner credits the leadership of the Long Range Precision Fire Cross-Functional Team in fostering collaboration within the Army enterprise, a collaboration that has opened avenues of ingenuity for a program conceptualized by the DEVCOM AvMC team in 2011. As increment one is soon to be delivered under urgent materiel release, Turner and his team’s belief in the future of the program remains unwavering.
«We are confident we can do it», he said.
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.
The UK will become the first European nation to operate a Maritime Ballistic Missile Defence capability that can detect and destroy Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles.
Type 45 Destroyers to receive significant upgrade as the UK to become the first European nation to operate a Maritime Ballistic Missile Defence detect and destroy capability.
UK have joined tri-national ASTER Block 1 missile programme with France and Italy.
Full upgrade programme worth more than £300 million, supporting more than 100 jobs, including highly skilled roles in Stevenage, Cowes, Bristol and Bolton.
The UK is set to become the first European nation to operate a Maritime Ballistic Missile Defence capability that can detect and destroy Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles as it commits to a significant upgrade of Britain’s fleet of Type 45 destroyers.
The upgraded defence system, using the ASTER 30 Block 1 missile previously used only in French and Italian land systems, will help UK forces combat the increasing threats posed by anti-ship ballistic missiles at sea by developing the missile into a maritime variant.
The Ministry of Defence has placed an initial contract for this work with MBDA which, when delivered, will be worth more than £300 million and support more than 100 jobs across the UK – including highly skilled technology roles in areas such as system design and software engineering in Stevenage, Cowes, Bristol and Bolton.
Defence Procurement Minister, Jeremy Quin said: «As we face global uncertainty, alliances and greater defensive capability are more important than ever. Joining our French and Italian counterparts will see us collectively improve the cutting-edge technology our armed forces possess».
It is another example of us delivering on the commitments from the Defence Command Paper, helping protect our service personnel when faced with the most severe threats.
Upgrading the defensive capability of the Type 45 fleet was committed to in the Defence Command Paper, as part of the Integrated Review last year. Being able to defend against anti-ship ballistic missiles will add to the current capability of the Destroyers to defeat threats from the air.
The signing of the tri-national agreement is the first formal step in the upgrade of the six vessels, which will include converting existing missiles to the ASTER 30 Block 1 standard, as well as updates to the SAMPSON Multi-Function Radar (MFR) and Sea Viper command and control missile system, under the full Sea Viper Evolution programme.
Sea Viper’s upgrade will boost the lethality of the Type 45 vessels, helping to ensure the Royal Navy remains poised to defend the surface fleet and the Maritime Strike Group against complex air threats both now and into the future.
DE&S CEO Sir Simon Bollom, said: «This demonstrates the UK commitment to delivering a cutting-edge maritime Air Defence Capability. Sea Viper Evolution will deliver a significant uplift in capability and brings to a close many years of detailed planning and activity by the Maritime Air and Weapons team in DE&S».
The Sea Viper Evolution programme follows the recent contract awards to introduce the Common Anti Air Modular Missile (CAMM) into the Type 45, which will see the missile outload of the platform increased from 48 to 72 missiles.
The Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers are among the most advanced in the fleet and carry out a range of activity, including defence from air attack, counter-piracy operations and providing humanitarian aid».
On May 23rd, Austal USA successfully launched the 17th Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the future USS Augusta (LCS-34). Assisted by tugs, the ship was escorted out of Austal USA’s floating dry dock and secured pier side on the waterfront for machinery commissioning and system activation in preparation for sea trials later this year.
The launch of Augusta was a multi-step process which involved lifting the 2,500-metric-ton ship almost three feet in the air, moving it approximately 400 feet/122 m onto a moored deck barge adjacent to the assembly bay – using transporters – then transferring the LCS from the deck barge to a floating dry dock. The floating dry dock was submerged with LCS-34 entering the water for the first time.
«We’re proud to announce another successful milestone achievement for the LCS program at Austal USA», stated Austal USA Vice President of New Construction, Dave Growden. «Austal USA’s team of talented shipbuilders are excited to have another LCS in the water and are looking forward to delivering her to the Navy so she can join her sister ships in the Pacific fleet».
The LCS is a fast, agile, mission-focused platform designed to operate in near-shore environments, winning against 21st-century coastal threats. The LCS is capable of supporting forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence.
With capabilities focused on defeating global challenges in the littorals, these surface combatants are designed to provide joint force access in the littorals. LCS can operate independently or in high-threat environments as part of a networked battle force that includes multi-mission surface combatants.
Augusta is the 17th of 19 Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships that Austal USA is building for the U.S. Navy. Four LCS are under various stages of construction. Austal USA is also constructing four Expeditionary Fast Transport ships for the U.S. Navy and will begin construction on Navajo-class Towing, Salvage, and Rescue Ships this summer.
The Independence Variant of the LCS
Hull and superstructure – aluminium alloy
421 feet/128.3 m
103 feet/31.4 m
Hull draft (maximum)
14.8 feet/4.5 m
PAYLOAD AND CAPACITIES
Core Crew – 40
Mission crew – 36
76 in a mix of single, double & quad berthing compartments
Maximum mission load
Mission Bay Volume
118,403 feet3/11,000 m3
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
Surface Warfare (SUW)
Mine Warfare (MIW)
2 × GE LM2500
2 × MTU 20V 8000
4 × Wartsila steerable
40 knots/46 mph/74 km/h
3,500 NM/4,028 miles/6,482 km
Survival in Sea State 8
>21,527.8 feet2/2,000 m2
Launch and recovery
Twin boom extending crane
Internal elevator to hanger
Sea State 4
FLIGHT DECK AND HANGER
Flight deck dimensions
2 × SH-60 or 1 × CH-53 or multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/Vertical Take-off and Land Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs/VTUAVs)
In a ceremony held at Simons Town Naval Base, the first of three, state-of-the-art, Multi Mission Inshore Patrol Vessels (MMIPVs) has been handed over to the South African Navy. The vessel marks the culmination of four years of work for Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT). The vessel being delivered will augment South Africa’s maritime security by enhancing the country’s capability to respond effectively, rapidly and cost-effectively to threats such as illegal trafficking and fishing.
The 62.2 m/204 feet by 11.5 m/37.7 feet vessels have been designed by Damen to deliver a rapid response capability that is both effective and cost efficient. The vessel is the first Damen Sea Axe vessel to operate in South Africa where, along with its sister ships, its primary role will be to counter piracy, illegal fishing and smuggling operations. However, their ability to accommodate at short notice containerized mission modules gives them a true multi-mission capability. The patented design delivers exceptional seakeeping behaviour with the straight-edged bow cutting through the water thereby improving comfort and safety while reducing emissions and fuel consumption.
The MMIPV project is also playing an important role in creating skilled new jobs and acting as a catalyst for the development of regional supply chains. On its own, the MMIPV project is expected to generate more than one million man-hours of work during the construction of the three MMIPVs and will support more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs at Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT). In addition, the yard is also focusing on nurturing small businesses to maximise local content.
Mr. Sam Montsi, Chairman of the Damen Shipyards Cape Town Board, commented: «The delivery is a significant milestone in the story of Damen Shipyards Cape Town. It is the first time that a naval vessel of this calibre has been built at the yard and it is also the first of its class! Despite the COVID 19 pandemic, this beautiful vessel has been built to the required quality level which is an achievement that was realised by South African people, as most of the work and materials that went into the construction were sourced locally».
«The yard has significantly grown during this process both in the quality of work and the safety standards achieved. This project has also allowed the yard to increase the impact of its transformation strategy by consistently delivering relevant development to the communities of South Africa».
The U.S. Navy commissioned its newest Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) in Duluth, Minnesota, May 21, 2022.
Representative Betty McCollum, Minnesota 4th District, was the principal speaker for the commissioning ceremony.
«The strength of America’s national security, and the democratic values we hold dear, are being tested today like they have not been in decades», said McCollum. «I can think of no two names that represent that strength more than Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Together we are one team – those who built this fine ship, and those who will serve on her. It is the strength and determination of the American people that is the backbone of our national security».
The Honorable Erik Raven, Under Secretary of the U.S. Navy, reflected on attending his first commissioning ceremony. «The Twin Cities represent the Great State of Minnesota’s economic, cultural, and political center. The Twin Cities play a significant role in our nation’s economic network», said Raven. «Now, more than ever, it is fitting that a Littoral Combat Ship is named Minneapolis-Saint Paul – honoring the legacy of work and contribution of the people whose work ultimately impacts our daily lives nationwide and globally».
Vice Admiral Scott Conn, United States Navy (USN), Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities also attended. «Thank you all for preparing LCS-21 for this day», said Conn. «I recognize how special it is to be together for this milestone, and to spend this day bringing the newest ship in our fleet to life in this way. And more so, to do it in the State of her namesake cities is unique and special».
The Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, also attended the ceremony. «This is a unique opportunity to gather ourselves as Minnesotans, and Americans», said Walz. «We’re not just a country; we’re an ideal».
Guest speakers for the event were Jon Rambeau, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors and senator of Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar.
Attendees of the ceremony were Mayor Jacob Frey, City of Minneapolis; Mayor Melvin Carter, City of Saint Paul; Mayor Emily Larson, City of Duluth; Rear. Admiral Casey Moton, Program Executive Office, Unmanned and Small Combatants; Mark Vandroff, chief executive officer, Fincantieri Marinette Marine; Captain David Miller, Commander, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2; Captain Andy Gold, Littoral Combat Ship program manager, Program Executive Office, Unmanned and Small Combatants; Brian Kriese, deputy officer in charge, supervisor of shipbuilding Bath Detachment Marinette; and Matrons of Honor, Nicole Sunberg and Carly Olsen.
Representative Pete Stauber, Minnesota 8th District, assisted in placing the ship into commission. The ship’s sponsor Jodi Greene, former Deputy Under Secretary of the U.S. Navy, gave the first order to «man our ship and bring her to life».
«As a crew, you have already proven your strength and determination in getting ready for this momentous day», said Greene. «You prepared this ship to take her place in the fleet during challenging times. All eyes were on you as you continued to make this pathway».
Built by the Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin. USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was launched and christened in on June 15, 2019. The ship completed acceptance trials, August 21, 2020, and was delivered to U.S. Navy, November 18, 2021.
«I am incredibly proud of this crew for their dedication to shipmate and ship as we worked toward the commissioning of USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul», said Commander Alfonza White, commanding officer of Minneapolis-Saint Paul. «We are honored to carry the name Minneapolis-Saint Paul into the fleet».
USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) is the second naval ship to honor Minnesota’s Twin Cities although each city has been honored twice before.
The first U.S. Navy warship named Minneapolis-Saint Paul was a Los Angeles-class submarine launched in 1983 that participated in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (SSN-708) was the first submarine to carry Tomahawk missiles specifically designed for use in strikes against Iraq during the Gulf War. Having served for over two decades with distinction, the submarine decommissioned in 2007.
LCS is a fast, agile, mission-focused platform designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation. It is designed to defeat asymmetric «anti-access» threats and is capable of supporting forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence.
USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) will be homeported at Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
Ship Design Specifications
Advanced semiplaning steel monohull
389 feet/118.6 m
57 feet/17.5 m
13.5 feet/4.1 m
Full Load Displacement
Approximately 3,200 metric tons
Greater than 40 knots/46 mph/74 km/h
Range at top speed
1,000 NM/1,151 miles/1,852 km
Range at cruise speed
4,000 NM/4,603 miles/7,408 km
Watercraft Launch and Recovery
Up to Sea State 4
Aircraft Launch and Recovery
Up to Sea State 5
Combined diesel and gas turbine with steerable water jet propulsion
85 MW/113,600 horsepower
Two MH-60 Romeo Helicopters
One MH-60 Romeo Helicopter and three Vertical Take-off and Land Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles (VTUAVs)
Less than 50
Accommodations for 75 sailors provide higher sailor quality of life than current fleet
Integrated Bridge System
Fully digital nautical charts are interfaced to ship sensors to support safe ship operation
Core Self-Defense Suite
Includes 3D air search radar
Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) gunfire control system
The first four CV90 Combat Support Vehicles were delivered to the Norwegian Armed Forces during a ceremony hosted by local industry partner Ritek AS in Levanger, Norway.
The four vehicles are the first of 20 modernized CV90 engineering vehicles BAE Systems will deliver, in partnership with Ritek and the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency.
«While rebuilding these vehicles, it has been important for the government that Norwegian jobs are supported», said Bent Joacim Bentzen, the State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense. «This has been possible thanks to a smooth and well-functioning collaboration between the Armed Forces, Defence Material Agency, Ritek and the licenser BAE Systems Hägglunds».
Partnering with the Norwegian defense industry was a key factor in getting the contract signed and the vehicles into production quickly, under measures implemented by the Norwegian parliament to support the country’s economy through the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
BAE Systems serves as the main supplier, while Ritek plays a central role in purchasing, logistics, final assembly, and integration. Ritek has also been responsible for coordinating the project and growing the participation of Norwegian industry. As a result, about 20 Norwegian companies are now qualified suppliers of products and components for the CV90 vehicles, and an integral part of BAE Systems’ Norwegian supply chain.
«This is an example of how it is possible to achieve fast deliveries through well-functioning cooperation», said Gro Jære, Director of the Defence Material Agency. «Just over a year after the contract was signed, we can now confirm that we are in the process of delivering the latest production series of CV90-based combat support vehicles to the Armed Forces. I would like to thank BAE Systems, Ritek, and my project staff for their flexibility, focus on delivery and effort so far».
The close cooperation between all parties has broadened Norway’s overall national capacity in the defense vehicle space and its preparedness to support the vehicles. The Norwegian CV90 fleet is fully digitalized, and among the most advanced combat vehicles in the world.
«Norway should be proud of its ability to work with political leaders, procurement authorities, and industry to innovate and meet challenges like COVID-19 in a world of uncertainty», said Tommy Gustafsson-Rask, managing director of BAE Systems Hägglunds. «Yet again, this milestone project demonstrates the strength of the relationships between all partners by delivering high-quality vehicles, on time and on cost».
The delivery ceremony coincided with the completion of Ritek’s new assembly hall for the CV90 project, which increases the total workshop area to 5,500 square meters. The hall is designed to meet all requirements for lifting capacity and flexibility in Ritek’s existing defence-related project portfolio and for future projects.
Airbus has been awarded a contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to further develop the implementation of LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), one of the most ambitious science missions ESA has planned to date. With Phase B1 now underway, the detailed mission design and final technology development activities for the gravitational wave observatory are due to be completed by 2024, with launch planned for the late 2030s.
Gravitational waves were first postulated by Albert Einstein. They are distortions in space-time, created when for example supermassive black holes – billions of times heavier than our sun – merge. These events are so powerful that the resulting gravitational waves can be measured by sensitive instruments from billions of light years away.
To measure these waves, LISA consists of three spacecraft that form an equilateral triangle deep in space, 2.5 million kilometres/1,553,428 miles apart from each other. Gravitational waves stretch and compress space-time, causing the tiniest changes in distance between the LISA probes (less than the diameter of an atom). Any movements of test masses that free-fall inside the three spacecraft when a gravitational wave passes can be detected by the spacecrafts’ sensitive instruments. LISA will do this by using lasers that continuously transmit back and forth between the satellites using interferometry, measuring the distance between each of the test masses.
Some of the key technologies required for LISA were successfully tested in space with the LISA Pathfinder (LPF) mission developed and built by Airbus as prime. The mission results showed that LPF operated even more precisely than required for LISA. LPF was launched on 3rd December 2015 and ended in July 2017.
Gravitational waves are a new research method that uses gravity instead of light to measure dynamic processes in the universe. The study of gravitational waves offers enormous potential for discovering parts of the universe that are invisible in other ways. LISA will significantly expand our knowledge of the beginning, evolution, and structure of our universe. Gravitational waves have been detected by ground-based observatories in recent years – by experiments such as Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the European Virgo observatory – but these facilities are limited in size and sensitivity, meaning that they are only able to detect high-frequency gravitational waves from particular sources (such as merging stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars).
Launch of three-spacecraft constellation planned for late 2030s
On May 13th 2022, Al Emarat (P111), the second Gowind corvette ordered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Naval Group, has been launched in Lorient in presence of an official delegation from the United Arab Emirates Navy.
In 2019, the United Arab Emirates ordered two Gowind corvettes to be built in France. The first corvette, Bani Yas (P110), was launched in December 2021. The second one, Al Emarat (P111), has been launched on May 13th in the Naval Group Lorient shipyard.
Naval Group, as a turn-key solution provider, will also train the UAE Navy’s crew from the equipment level up to the operational level. Starting in France, this preparation will continue with team-building and practice on operational scenarios in every warfare area in the Gulf.
Stéphane Frémont, Director of Surface Ship Programs at Naval Group, said: «The launching of Gowind Al Emarat (P111) is a major industrial and symbolic milestone, where the corvette reaches her natural environment. The two Bani Yas class vessels benefit from the modular design of the Gowind family and are the perfect asset to help the UAE Navy meet the challenges of today and tomorrow thanks to the most advanced technologies».
Gowind enjoys significant commercial success as 12 units have already been sold. Most of them are built locally through Transfer of Technology and partnerships with local industry, for example in Egypt where three units are now in service within the Egyptian Navy.
Gowind: designed for naval operations
Gowind is Naval Group’s response to 21st century security and defence challenges. It is a corvette-size multi-mission Surface Combatant offering capabilities in all areas. It is designed to perform the full spectrum of naval defence operations and maritime security roles, with the highest level of performance.
Sturdy, strongly equipped, highly manoeuvrable, Gowind integrates, through Naval Group’s SETIS Combat Management System (CMS) and innovative structural solutions, the latest generation sensors and weapons. Designed to be used against air, naval or underwater threats from the initial steps of the engineering process, Gowind is multipurpose by design.
Gowind is a sea proven, enduring, stealth and highly survivable platform offering:
high performance warfare capabilities integrated through the SETIS CMS and an efficient and innovative Panoramic Sensors and Intelligence Module (PSIM);
automated systems for user-friendly operations by an optimized crew;
large and smart deployable assets: heavy helicopter, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs);
growth potential driven by customer requirement and innovation.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the Liberty Lifter project to demonstrate a leap in operational logistics capabilities by designing, building, and flying a long-range, low-cost X-plane capable of seaborne strategic and tactical lift. The new vehicle concept seeks to expand upon existing cargo aircraft by proving revolutionary heavy air lift abilities from the sea.
The envisioned plane will combine fast and flexible strategic lift of very large, heavy loads with the ability to take off/land in water. Its structure will enable both highly controlled flight close to turbulent water surfaces and sustained flight at mid-altitudes. In addition, the plane will be built with a low-cost design and construction philosophy.
Although current sealift is very efficient in transporting large amounts of payload, it is vulnerable to threats, requires functional ports, and results in long transit times. Traditional airlift is much faster, but has limited ability to support maritime operations. Additionally, today, such aircraft suffer payload limitations or require long runways.
There is a history of attempting to develop aircraft created to fly with «wing-in-ground effect», which means the aircraft is flying no more than the length of its wingspan above ground or water. The most well-known examples are the Soviet «ekranoplans». These vehicles were high speed and runway-independent, but were restricted to calm waters and had limited maneuverability.
«This first phase of the Liberty Lifter program will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads, and other parameters», said Alexander Walan, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «Innovative advances envisioned by this new DARPA program will showcase an X-plane demonstrator that offers warfighters new capabilities during extended maritime operations».
To address the shortcomings of existing vehicles and operational concepts, the Liberty Lifter program focuses on addressing three main challenges.
Extended Maritime Operations: Emphasis will be placed on operating in turbulent sea states by creating high-lift abilities at low speeds to reduce wave impact load during takeoff/landing, and innovative design solutions to absorb wave forces. In addition, the project will address risks of vehicle collision during high-speed operation in congested environments. Finally, the aim is for the vehicle to operate at sea for weeks at a time without land-based maintenance activities.
Full-Scale Affordable Production: Construction will prioritize low-cost, easy-to-fabricate designs over exquisite, low-weight concepts. Materials should be more affordable than those in traditional aircraft manufacturing and available to be purchased in large quantities.
Complex Flight and Sea Surface Controls: Advanced sensors and control schemes will be developed to avoid large waves and to handle aero/hydro-dynamic interactions during takeoff/landing.
The Liberty Lifter program aims to design, build, float, and fly an affordable, innovative, and disruptive seaplane that operates efficiently in ground effect (less than 100 feet/30.5 meters above surface), can sustain flight altitudes up to 10,000 feet/3,048 meters Mean Sea Level (MSL), and enables efficient theater-range transport of large payloads at speeds far exceeding existing sea lift platforms. Liberty Lifter will use low-cost manufacturing akin to ship fabrication in building a highly innovative seaplane capable of meeting Department of Defense (DoD) heavy lift requirements (100+ tons/200,000+ lbs.) that operates with runway and port independence.